Fr David’s Sermon for Palm Sunday, 2019
Today we are challenged at the point when we move from Great Lent, now completed and into Passion Week about to begin. The challenge is this: Will we have become changed on Bright Monday, the day after Pascha compared with how we were on Clean Monday at the beginning of the Fast. Yes, we have been encouraged to abstain from various foods, to spend more time in prayer and church attendance and almsgiving, but these are only aids to something much more fundamental. The aim of Great Lent is to be changed into the likeness of Christ. The aim of the Christian life is to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.
In the Liturgy of St Basil we are reminded that Christ emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, becoming man in order to condemn sin in his flesh, that those who are dying in Adam might be made alive in Christ. Then there is another challenge. Yesterday we remembered the miraculous raising from the dead of Lazarus. He had been lying in the tomb dead for four days. Jesus went to the tomb and commanded that the stone at the entrance be removed and then he shouted:
“Lazarus, come forth, Lazarus come out!” Lazarus may well have thought, in response: “But it is comfortable here, I am enjoying a good sleep after my hard life!” But our Lord insisted: “Come out, I have more for you in this life!”
This call also applies to us - we are to come out to be made alive in Christ, we have to come out of our comfort zone. This challenge was also there for the crowd which had gathered in Bethany to meet this extraordinary Teacher who had brought about this miracle. When they saw Him mounted on an ass, a donkey, they joined in shouting: “Hosanna to the son of David, Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.” At last, they thought, here is one who can liberate us, let us support this new life in Christ. The leaders of the nation, however, had other thoughts. They saw the challenge of Jesus as a threat. Who was this usurper, troublemaker who might upset the comfortable relationship they had with the Roman Authorities. Better to be dying in Adam rather than be influenced by this man. And so Jesus was condemned to death to be out of the way. The crowd who had hoped for revolution and change a few days earlier was now unsure and perhaps persuaded to be quiet. The one they had hailed as Son of David was now at the mercy of their leaders, perhaps they had information that the crowd did not have, the leaders could not have demanded such a cruel execution without reason, especially one that was reserved for slaves, non citizens, criminals. Now the tune was changed, better be with the Leaders and cry, at their instigation: “Crucify!” Better to be content to be dying in Adam rather than be made alive in Christ, this criminal.
Even the Apostles and disciples must have felt uncertainty and despair, though some would have recalled that Jesus had said that he would rise again. But how could this be, the body tortured, wracked and distorted by Crucifixion was very different from the body of Lazarus who had experienced a normal death. For three days they were in despair until all uncertainty was swept away as they found themselves indeed being made alive in Christ, following His Resurrection.
Well, all of us will have some thoughts that we have not kept Great Lent as we should, but St John Chrysostom in his Paschal homily reassures us that the table is laid, the feast is ready and we are all invited, those of us who have kept the Fast from the beginning and those of us who are coming at the “eleventh hour”. In Passion Week, for all of us, the Church provides us a great opportunity, even in the eleventh hour! - on Wednesday there is the Healing Service; on Thursday - the Liturgy of the Last Supper in the morning; and in the evening we are invited to stand with our Lord in His Passion as we read the Twelve Passion Gospels. Then, on Holy and Great Friday, we are present at the laying of Christ in the Tomb during Vespers. Saturday morning reminds us that Christ’s first act was to reveal His Resurrection to those in Hades, the resting place of souls and in that joy which Adam and Eve experiences, all our own departed relatives will rejoice as well and we can stand with them as the first Gospel of the Resurrection is proclaimed. All this before Saturday evening, the full and joyful celebration of Christ’s Glorious Resurrection.
The whole reason for Great Lent has been to realise the whole purpose of life: to be changed into the likeness of Christ and to be able to enter with joy into His Glorious Resurrection, no longer dying in Adam, but being made alive in Christ!